A HARBOUR authority was fined £650,000 after admitting breaching health and safety at work regulations following a tug sinking which claimed the lives of three men.

The Flying Phantom was overtaken and pulled over by the larger bulk carrier Red Jasmine in fog as it was towing on the River Clyde on December 19 in 2007.

The master of the tug Stephen Humphreys, 33, from Greenock, engineer Robert Cameron, 65, from Houston, in Renfrewshire, and rating Eric Blackley, 57, from Gourock, all lost their lives.

A fourth member of the crew, mate Brian Aitchison, then aged 37, survived. All the victims were married with children.

Clydeport Operations Limited last week admitted failing to have in place an adequate contingency plan if fog was encountered especially when a large vessel was being towed.

It also admitted failing to provide a safety management system and to appoint a suitable individual or individuals as the designated person.

A trial was originally fixed in the case for the High Court in Edinburgh, which could have lasted up to 12 weeks, before a plea was negotiated.

Lord Kinclaven said the court required to mark the seriousness of the offending by imposing "a substantial fine" on Clydeport.

The owners of the tug, Svitzer Marine, were fined £1.7 million last year after admitting health and safety breaches.

The court heard that the Flying Phantom was involved in a previous incident in December 2000 when it was holed after an Egyptian cargo ship, the Abu Egila, collided with it during towing in thick fog.

Lord Kinclaven said: "I appreciate there is nothing that I can do or say in this court that can compensate for the tragic deaths of the late Stephen Humphreys, Robert Cameron and Eric Blackley - or for the ordeal suffered by Brian Aitchison."

The judge said that on the basis of the accepted plea "the proximate cause" of the loss of life on the tug was the offending of Svitzer.

But he added that he had to bear in mind that Clydeport had committed a serious offence over a substantial period of time.

He said: "It began with the Abu Egila incident in 2000 and it ended with Red Jasmine incident in 2007.

"The Clyde is an important waterway of national significance. Clydeport is correct to take its responsibilities as harbour authority for the Clyde very seriously."

He said that the fine imposed on Clydeport would be "significantly lower than the one imposed on Svitzer who accepted responsibility for causing three fatalities".

The judge said that he would allow 28 days for the £650,000 to be paid. He added that if Clydeport had not accepted its responsibility through the guilty plea it would have faced a penalty in the order of £750,000.

Reports prepared noted that harbour towing in fog was extremely dangerous and especially for the lead tug where there was a high risk of encircling.